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Dental Clinic Model

In the dental clinic model, dental providers offer safety net care to individuals. Some rural communities are using existing dental clinics when implementing this model, while others are seeking funds to build new free-standing clinics or open clinics within a local medical center. In one rural program that participates in an oral health consortium, four dental clinics operate in a partner’s building at no cost.

Rural oral health programs offer preventive, restorative, surgical, and rehabilitation services to patients, such as:

  • Dental hygiene (cleaning, scaling, polishing)
  • Oral cancer screening
  • Dental X-rays
  • Dental sealants
  • Fluoride varnish
  • Fillings
  • Root canal therapy
  • Crowns
  • Tooth extraction
  • Dentures
  • Treatment of gum disease

In addition to these services, dental clinics may offer education on oral hygiene, self-care, and wellness maintenance. Rural dental clinics may also provide services for expecting mothers and mothers with infants, such as information about newborn hygiene and bottle-feeding, sample dental products, dental wipes, and treatment schedules.

In some dental clinics, dentists or dental students offer their services free of charge. Other dental clinics may accept Medicaid payments or use a sliding fee scale. Some dental clinics offer only emergency dental services, and such services are offered at reduced rates.

Implementation considerations

Rural dental clinics are staffed in different ways. Some programs recruit dentists to provide dental care to patients on a rotational schedule, sharing the responsibility across providers. Other programs work with dental residents to provide free dental care. Programs also offer multi-day portable clinic events staffed by dental and medical professionals and community member volunteers.

Rural oral health programs have established patient advisory groups to guide their projects in order to identify and understand the needs of their priority population. In some cases, food, transportation and modest compensation are offered to advisory group members to improve participation.

Resources to Learn More

Definitions, Oral Health Policies, and Recommendations
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) Reference Manual is divided into five sections: (1) definitions; (2) oral health policies; (3) recommendations; (4) endorsements; and (5) resources. Oral health policies are statements relating to AAPD positions on various public health issues. Clinical guidelines are practice recommendations designed to assist the dental provider in making decisions concerning direct patient care.
Organization(s): American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry

American Dental Association Center for Evidence-based Dentistry
The Center for Evidence-based Dentistry provides a database of systematic reviews on all oral health topics, synopses of the key elements of systematic reviews, clinical recommendations and guidelines, and links to other many outside resources including tutorials, glossaries, and databases.
Organization(s): American Dental Association

Dental Forms Library
The National Network for Oral Health Access Dental Forms Library is a collection of forms in use by safety-net oral health programs across the country. These sites are sharing their forms to allow other programs to have a reference in developing their own material.
Organization(s): National Network for Oral Health Access

Dental Support Center
The purpose of the Dental Support Center (DSC) is to improve access to clinical and preventative services for the Indian Health Service Beneficiaries. The website contains patient educational resources and templates that could be used in other clinics.
Organization(s): United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc.

How to Start a Dental Clinic
This website provides multiple resources on starting a dental clinic from scratch or for expanding existing programs.
Organization(s): National Network for Oral Health Access

Oral Health Disparities Collaborative Implementation Manual
Shares experiences and lessons learned from health centers that participated in the 2005 HRSA Oral Health Disparities Collaborative Pilot.
Organization(s): The Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Date: 6/2008

School-based Oral Health Screening Materials
This website provides oral health screening resources including basic screening survey manuals and video, screening form, parental consent letter, among other resources.
Organization(s): Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services – Oral Health Program